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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter 2022 (Print 2022)

Naboth

Patrick Cronauer and Marcia Kupfer
EintragstypEntry Type
Main Lemma
EintragsspracheEntry Language
EnglischEnglish
InhaltsverzeichnisTable of Contents

1. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Naboth the Jezreelite (MT Nābôt, “fruit,” “a shoot”; LXX Ναβουθαι; Vg. Naboth) is named twenty-two times in Kings, nineteen times in 1 Kgs 21 and three times in 2 Kgs 9:21, 25–26. Both texts refer to the “murder” of Naboth, but the details differ and there are differences between the MT and LXX. In the MT (1 Kgs 21:1) Naboth owned a vineyard near Ahab’s palace in Jezreel, while the LXX reads: “Naboth owned a vineyard near the threshing-floor of Ahab, king of Samaria,” not mentioning Jezreel. Ahab made an offer to buy or trade the vineyard, but Naboth refused because it was his “ancestral inheritance.” Ahab’s foreign wife, Jezebel, had Naboth falsely accused of treason and blasphemy and executed, and then Ahab took the vineyard and God sent Elijah to pronounce judgment. Ahab repented, and the punishment was put off to one of his sons (1 Kgs 21:27–29).

The story, a didactic parable, speaks to all who suffer injustice at the hands of those in authority or power (Cronauer: 1). It teaches moral and religious lessons on human rights and the evil of greed. Naboth is the epitome of the faithful Israelite who refuses to part with his vineyard because it is “ancestral inheritance.” He keeps the traditions of his ancestors that are being threatened by the “modern” political thinking of the writer’s time. Naboth is a “martyr” whose death causes Elijah to condemn both Ahab and Jezebel. Its parabolic style casts the story as a perpetual warning against the abuse of the weak and poor by the powerful and wealthy.

In 2 Kgs 9 Naboth’s death precipitates the end of the Omride dynasty. Elisha has Jehu anointed and commissioned to wipe out the Omrides. An older fragment of Naboth tradition, 2 Kgs 9:25–26 was placed into the story of the coup. Jehu killed Ahab’s son, Joram, citing an oracle of the Lord about the murder of Naboth and his sons as justification. There is no mention of a vineyard; rather, Naboth owned a field(s) outside the city, upon which Jehu has Joram’s body cast.

2. Judaism

Naboth is a “type” for any Jew who loses his life for fidelity to the traditions of his people. Naboth’s death foreshadows the suffering of the Jewish people throughout history. In Jewish legal tradition, the Naboth story was used in debates on the rights of a state to take the property of individuals, especially any convicted of treason (Zeitlin: 6–7). The false accusation that he “cursed both God and king” is debated (bSan 48b). In revenge for his murder, the “spirit of Naboth” is linked with the “lying spirit” sent by God to entice Ahab to his death for Naboth’s murder (1 Kgs 22:20–23; bShab 149b; bSan 102b; cf. Zeitlin: 6–9). Using the Naboth story, Maimonides ruled it was forbidden to sell ancestral lands except in extreme cases (MishT, Hilkhot Shemitah we-yovel 11:1, 3), and it was used to show the unity of narrative and halakhah regarding the requirement for two witnesses, clearly known by Jezebel (cf. Deut 19:15–21; Shalev: 182, 186, n. 2). Throughout Jewish tradition Naboth is used to exemplify teachings about individual and social justice, wealth and poverty, abuse of power, fidelity, and innocent suffering. (e.g., Lifshitz: 34–65).

3. Christianity

In Christian tradition the Naboth story is used to exemplify the same lessons as in Judaism. In the 4th century, Ambrose used it to teach against cupidity (De Nabuthe Jezraelita, PL 14:763–92). Papal teachings often refer or allude to 1 Kgs 21, as when John Paul II taught about ownership of the means of production (Centesimos Annus: §43). It is used in teachings on the tenth commandment – “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods” (e.g., the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 3.2.2.10). Recently, Pope Francis used it to show “where the exercise of authority without respect for life or justice and without mercy leads us” (“General Audience,” 2016).

4. Economics and Law

First Kings 21 is used in discussions of economic and legal theory (Bartor: 445–64) and in debates about “eminent domain” and the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment: “[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” (Harrington: 5). Naboth’s trial is proposed as one of the earliest recorded acts of deliberate market bypass (Gray: 74). The theory that “good institutions, like strong protection of private rights, contribute to economic development,” is linked to the tenth commandment and illustrated by the Naboth story (Segerstrom: 2). What Jezebel and Ahab did to Naboth has been compared to the misconduct of recent US presidents (Vile: 2), and to the “ideological underpinnings of land ownership issues in Africa” (Vengeyi: 59–79).

5. Literature

Naboth’s vineyard has a rich afterlife in literature. According to Michael Suarez, in Naboth’s Vineyard or The Innocent Traitor by John Caryll (1679), a defiant Catholic nobleman accused of treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London in the Popish Plot trials is “the first sustained mock-biblical verse satire in the English language in which Naboth represents the recusant Catholic nobility and the king, queen, and the judge Arod, are the corrupt officials who conspire to rob the Catholic nobility of their property” (Suarez: 529). The story of Naboth is a staple of any drama or novel about Jezebel. Anthony Trollope uses the theme in Framley Parsonage (1860–61), ch. 2, in relation to the vicar’s garden (see Jeffrey: 532). Naboth is also vilified in John Masefield’s play A King’s Daughter (1923). According to G. Abramson, the play Okhlim (1977, Eating) by Israeli playwright Yaakov Shabtai (1934–1981) uses the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard as an allegory of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The play is a satire on the government’s manipulation of the law to accommodate its greed and the antagonism between the political state and human morality” (Abramson: 61). (PC)

6. Visual Arts

Naboth’s story has been the subject of a number of European artworks. The earliest extant depiction of Naboth’s stoning (1 Kgs 21:13) appears in a 9th-century Byzantine manuscript, the Sacra Parallela of John of Damascus (Paris, BnF, MS gr. 923, fol. 377v). From the late 12th century, images of Naboth multiply in diverse Western manuscript traditions. Sometimes the stoning episode encapsulates the totality of Naboth’s story, as in the Dialogus de Laudibus Sanctae Crucis of 1170–75 (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm. 14159, fol. 4r) or in German language world chronicles from the second half of the 14th century (e.g., Weltchronik of Rudolf of Ems, Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda, MS Aa 88, fol. 335v; the Christ-Herre Chronik, New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.769, fol. 211r).

In a copy of the Biblia Pauperum featuring pen drawings from 1435, Jezebel seated on her throne and Naboth’s stoning are coupled as one of two OT types for Pilate washing his hands (Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.230, fol. 13v). Sometimes a dense pictorial narrative illustrates the interactions between Naboth, Ahab, and Jezebel that lead up to the stoning, as in the Pamplona Picture Bibles of ca. 1200 (vol. 1: Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale Louis Aragon, MS 108, fols. 114v, 115r, 115v, 116r; vol. 2: Augsburg, University Library, MS I.2.4.15, fols. 135r, 135v, 136r [see fig. 12]). The scene of Naboth refusing to turn his vineyard over to Ahab exemplifies the Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet …”) in pictorial sets of the Commandments, as in a Lower Saxon panel painting of ca. 1410 (e.g. Hanover, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, inv. no. WM XXVII, 2) and in engravings by Crispijn van de Passe, 1585–89 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The Methodist minister James Smetham painted Naboth in his Vineyard in 1856 (Tate Gallery, London). Naboth is depicted, reclining in his vineyard, a child asleep at his side. Above, Ahab looks down covetously at the idyllic scene. The Naboth story is also a favorite for artistic interpretation in children’s Bible stories. (MK)

7. Film

The Naboth story has influenced plots, subplots, and characterizations in film (e.g., Moby Dick, dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1930, US; dir. John Huston, 1956, US; Jezebel, dir. William Wyler, 1938, US; Sins of Jezebel, dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1953, US; Capitaine Achab, dir. Philippe Ramos, 2007, FR/SW; Loving Jezebel, dir. Kwyn Bader, 1999, US). Two recent films use the theme of Naboth the innocent and faithful victim. Lemon Tree (2008), by Israeli director Eran Riklis, retells the Naboth story with the surprising reversal that “Naboth” is a Palestinian widow who owns a coveted lemon grove. Leviathan (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014, RU) draws upon the Naboth theme to address social issues in Russia, including murder to take an innocent victim’s property. (PC)

Bibliography

Abramson, G., Drama and Ideology in Modern Israel (Cambridge 1998).Search in Google Scholar

Bartor, A., “The Juridical Dialogue: A Literary-Juridical Pattern,” VT 53 (2003) 445–64.Search in Google Scholar

Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City 21997).Search in Google Scholar

Cronauer, P. T., The Stories about Naboth the Jezreelite (LHBOTS 424; New York 2006).Search in Google Scholar

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Harrington, M. P., “The Original Understanding of the So-Called ‘Takings’ Clause,” Hastings Law Journal 53 (2002) 1–90.Search in Google Scholar

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Lifshitz, Y. Y., “Foundations of a Jewish Economic Theory,” Azure 18 (2004) 34–66.Search in Google Scholar

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Pope Francis, “General Audience” (February 24, 2016; w2.vatican.va).Search in Google Scholar

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Suarez, M. F., “A Crisis in English Public Life: The Popish Plot, Naboth’s Vineyard (1679), and Mock-Biblical Satire’s Exemplary Redress,” Huntington Library Quarterly 67.4 (2004) 529–52,Search in Google Scholar

Vengeyi, O., “The Land as an Inalienable Asset: Lessons from 1 Kings 21: 1–29,” in Land: An Empowerment Asset for Africa: The Human Factor Perspective (ed. C. G. Mararike; Harare, Zimbabwe 2014) 59–79.Search in Google Scholar

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Figures

 
                     Fig. 12 “Naboth is stoned to death” (1 Kgs 21:13–14): illustration in Pamplona Bible (ca. 1200); MS I.2.4.15, fol. 136r (urn:nbn:de:bvb:384-uba002000-9), University Library, Augsburg/Germany ©Oettingen-Wallersteinsche Bibliothek. 

Fig. 12 “Naboth is stoned to death” (1 Kgs 21:13–14): illustration in Pamplona Bible (ca. 1200); MS I.2.4.15, fol. 136r (urn:nbn:de:bvb:384-uba002000-9), University Library, Augsburg/Germany ©Oettingen-Wallersteinsche Bibliothek. 

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